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Carl Rianhard, president of OpenTec: with the Internet, "we're all on the same page".

Mexico City's wide avenues, strict hierarchies and lagging technology may seem like Silicon Valley's converse in both atmosphere and ethos. But Carl Rianhard, the president of OpenTec, is determined to create a haven for the Silicon Valley ethic in his company's Polanco headquarters.

After growing up in Mexico City, Rianhard moved to the U.S. to pursue a career in technology that kept him at bay in California and other U.S. cities for years. He returned to Mexico and took the reins at OpenTec, where computer rental has segued into a lucrative e-learning enterprise, in 1994. Rianhard told Julia Cooke, associate editor of BUSINESS MEXICO, about his vision of business and technology in Mexico--both its realities and potentials--and how the country can learn from northern California.

More than maquiladoras ...

Ever since I was a kid, growing up in Mexico, I've always been curious about why Mexico always seems to maquilar everything, make other people's products. There's nothing wrong with that--China does it, India does it--but the difference is, those countries also make their own products. In Mexico we don't have a lot of that, we don't have many brands of products, or cars, or software, or content.

Unfortunately, in Mexico, a lot of people are working, and they may not be very happy but that's kind of where they ended up. I'm hoping to give ownership to these people, so they feel like it's their company. It's not my company--if something were to happen to me tomorrow, this company should keep going. It should not depend on me. And what I mean by ownership is not necessarily stock, although that is in the plans, but feeling ownership, feeling like they're responsible for what they are doing. That's not something that's so automatic.

Changing attitudes from the inside out ...

The Mexican culture is very fatalistic--"ni modo." In Silicon Valley, you have a startup mentality. You either make it happen or you don't. That's what I'm trying to instill here. It's only up to us, it's not up to anyone else.

Our building looks like a high-tech building, it feels like a high-tech building. We have flexible hours, which are not that usual here in Mexico. We have people working out of their houses, for instance, in Aguascalientes and Guadalajara. We try to be flexible, to negotiate and work things out. The little things that make it more of a family atmosphere: we're all trying to get this thing done.

Tearing down the walls ...

Growing up here as a kid affected my reasons to come back here and try to do the entrepreneurship thing. I was at the American school, where you have all these walls--in the States, you don't have walls, homes don't have walls, businesses don't have walls--here everything has walls. Even as a kid it always used to amaze me. We would be inside that thing, and then during a recess, we would walk out and go to the "tienditas." But those people from the "tienditas" were not allowed inside of those walls.

The Internet, to me, is a wonderful thing because now those people from the "tienditas" can access the same thing that I can access. And that's happening before our eyes. The opportunities are going to be available for everybody. It's not so hierarchical--we're all on the same page.

The means to the end ...

It's too early to tell where Mexico will go, technologically. We're just taking the first steps. I do think that if it's not good in three or four years, that's a pretty significant problem. The standard of living in Mexico has not gone up in decades. And a lot of it has to do with this: There's no intellectual property here.
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Title Annotation:TRAVELOGUE
Publication:Business Mexico
Date:Dec 1, 2005
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